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- Peg O' My Heart - 30/72 -


calamity. What could this grave, dignified-looking man want with them? Her eyes filled.

"Is it BAD news?" she faltered.

"Oh, dear, no," answered Mr. Hawkes, genially.

"Well--is it GOOD news?" queried Alaric.

"In a measure," said the lawyer.

"Then for heaven's sake get at it. You've got me all clammy. We could do with a little good news. Wait a minute! Is it by any chance about the BANK?"

"No," replied Mr. Hawkes. He cleared his throat and said solemnly and impressively to Mrs. Chichester:

"It is about your LATE brother--Nathaniel Kingsnorth."

"Late!" cried Mrs. Chichester. "Is Nathaniel DEAD?"

"Yes, madam," said Hawkes gravely. "He died ten days ago."

Mrs. Chichester sat down and silently wept. Nathaniel to have died without her being with him to comfort him and arrange things with him! It was most unfortunate.

Alaric tried to feel sorry, but inasmuch as his uncle had always refused to see him he could not help thinking it may have been retribution. However, he tried to show a fair and decent measure of regret.

"Poor old Nat," he cried. "Eh, Ethel?"

"Never saw him," answered Ethel, her face and voice totally without emotion. "You say he died ten days ago?" asked Mrs. Chichester.

Mr. Hawkes bowed.

"Why was I not informed? The funeral--?"

"There was no funeral," replied Mr. Hawkes.

"No funeral?" said Alaric in astonishment.

"No," replied the lawyer. "In obedience to his written wishes he was cremated and no one was present except the chief executor and myself. If I may use Mr. Kingsnorth's words without giving pain, he said he so little regretted not having seen any of his relations for the last twenty years of his life-time he was sure THEY would regret equally little his death. On no account was anyone to wear mourning for him, nor were they to express any open sorrow. `They wouldn't FEEL it, so why lie about it?' I use his own words," added Mr. Hawkes, as if disclaiming all responsibility for such a remarkable point of view.

"What a rum old bird!" remarked Alaric, contemplatively.

Mrs. Chichester wept as she said:

"He was always the most unfeeling, the most heartless--the most--"

"Now in his will--" interrupted the lawyer, producing a leather pocket-book filled with important-looking papers: "In his will--" he repeated--

Mrs. Chichester stopped crying:

"Eh? A will?"

"What?" said Alaric, beaming; "did the dear old gentleman leave a will?"

Even Ethel stopped playing with "Pet" and listened languidly to the conversation.

Mr. Hawkes, realising he had their complete interest, went on importantly: "As Mr. Kingsnorth's legal adviser up to the time of his untimely death I have come here to make you acquainted with some of its contents"

He spread a formidable-looking document wide-open on the table, adjusted his pince-nez and prepared to read. "Dear old Nat!" said Alaric reflectively. "Do you remember, mater, we met him at Victoria Station once when I was little more than a baby? Yet I can see him now as plainly as if it were yesterday. A portly, sandy-haired old buck, with three jolly chins."

"He was white toward the end, and very, very thin," said Mr. Hawkes softly.

"Was he?" from Alaric. "Fancy that. It just shows, mater, doesn't it?" He bent eagerly over the table as Hawkes traced some figures with a pencil on one of the pages of the will.

"How much did he leave?" And Alaric's voice rose to a pitch of well- defined interest.

"His estate is valued, approximately, at some two hundred thousand pounds," replied the lawyer.

Alaric gave a long, low whistle, and smiled a broad, comprehensive smile.

Ethel for the first time showed a gleam of genuine interest.

Mrs. Chichester began to cry again. "Perhaps it was my fault I didn't see him oftener," she said.

Alaric, unable to curb his curiosity, burst out with: "How did the old boy split it up?"

"To his immediate relations he left" Mr. Hawkes looked up from the will and found three pairs of eyes fixed on him. He stopped. It may be that constant association with the law courts destroys faith in human nature--but whatever the cause, it seemed to Mr. Hawkes in each of those eyes was reflected the one dominant feeling--GREED. The expression in the family's combined eyes was astonishing in its directness, its barefacedness. It struck the dignified gentleman suddenly dumb.

"Well? Well?" Cried Alaric. "How much? Don't stop right in the middle of an important thing like that. You make me as nervous as a chicken."

Mr. Hawkes returned to the will and after looking at it a moment without reading said:

"To his immediate relations Mr. Kingsnorth left, I regret to say-- NOTHING."

A momentary silence fell like a pall over the stricken Chichester family.

Mrs. Chichester rose, indignation flashing from the eyes that a moment since showed a healthy hope.

"Nothing?" she cried incredulously.

"Not a penny-piece to anyone?" ventured Alaric.

The faintest suspicion of a smile flitted across Ethel's face.

Hawkes looked keenly at them and answered:

"I deeply regret to say--nothing."

Mrs. Chichester turned to Ethel, who had begun to stroke "Pet" again.

"His own flesh and blood!" cried the poor lady.

"What a shabby old beggar!" commented Alaric, indignantly.

"He was always the most selfish, the most--" began Mrs. Chichester, when Mr. Hawkes, who bad been turning over the pages of the document before him, gave an ejaculation of relief.

"Ah! Here we have it. This, Mrs. Chichester, is how Mr. Kingsnorth expressed his attitude toward his relations in his last will and testament."

"'I am the only member of the Kingsnorth family who ever made any money. All my precious relations either inherited it or married to get it.'--"

"I assure you--" began Mrs. Chichester.

Alaric checked her: "Half a moment, mater. Let us hear it out to the bitter end. He must have been an amusin' old gentleman!"

Mr. Hawkes resumed: "--'consequently I am not going to leave one penny to relations who are already, well-provided for.'"

Mrs. Chichester protested vehemently:

"But we are NOT provided for."

"No," added Alaric. "Our bank's bust."

"We're ruined," sobbed Mrs. Chichester.

"Broke!" said Alaric.

"We've nothing!" wailed the old lady.

"Not thruppence," from the son.

"Dear, dear," said the lawyer. "How extremely painful."

"PAINFUL? That's not the word. Disgustin' I call it," corrected Alaric.

Mr. Hawkes thought a moment. Then he said: "Under those circumstances, perhaps a clause in the will may have a certain interest and an element of relief."

As two drowning people clinging to the proverbial straws the mother and son waited breathlessly for Mr. Hawkes to go on.


Peg O' My Heart - 30/72

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